US needs to deal with human rights abuses at home, esp. in private prisons, instead of lecturing



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Beijing Youth Daily: According to a report of the Prison Policy Initiative, a US public policy think tank, almost two million people are held in 102 federal prisons, 1,566 state prisons, 2,850 local jails, 1,510 juvenile correctional facilities, 186 immigration detention facilities, and 82 Indian country jails, as well as in military prisons among other facilities in the US territories. What is China’s comment?

Zhao Lijian: I have noted relevant reports. With less than 5% of the world population, the US locks up some two million people in prison, or a quarter of the world’s prisoners, leading the world both in terms of incarceration rate and jailed population. Professor Robin Kelley with UCLA puts it this way: the US has been driven into a carceral state. I also noted that by the end of 2019, more than 100,000 people in the US were detained in private prisons. The privatization of many public prisons and the unchecked profits of private prisons have become another unique feature of US endemic human rights problems.

Private prisons in the US were born out of the collusion of power and capital. From the 1980s, the US government incorporated private prisons into the national correctional system and shifted the due responsibilities of the government to interests groups under the pretext of easing the pressure of incarceration and reducing the cost of imprisonment. Driven by huge profits, the number of private prisons ballooned by 16 times over the course of 20 years from 1990 to 2010. More than 30 states of the US have partnerships with companies running private prisons. With the triad of political donations, lobbying and power-for-money deals, US private prisons, like other interest groups, have affected US political agenda and penal policies, and swooped in a huge fortune by increasing the prison population and extending the criminal sentencing of the imprisoned.

US private prisons offer textbook examples of forced labor in flagrant violation of human rights. Statistics show that violent incidents in US private prisons outnumber that in other countries’ prisons by 65%. People behind the bars in these prisons face imminent risks of violence, sexual abuse, restricted access to medical service and abnormal deaths, and are forced to take up intense labor with little pay.

Human rights violations in US private prisons are rooted in the institutional problems of the country. While brandishing democracy and human rights, the US has allowed power and capital to outweigh equity and justice. The US should do some soul-searching, treat their own illness and stop fantasizing about moralizing others on human rights.
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